Will the last in-house lawyer turn the lights out please?
Oh not another depressing missive you ask? Well not really just some practical advice. Part of the advice I often give to business lawyers is to read about…business. One of my favourite business writers is Charles Handy. I like Handy because he trained as a classicist but had a career in business which, while it is very far removed from classics, also has similarities and Handy often uses stories from classics to illustrate his points. It kind of makes business interesting. It also reminds me of my own background (I am not claiming to be in the same league as Handy you understand) as I decided late in my time at school to become a lawyer. Before this I was going to be an actor yah know! Anyway, I was lucky enough to listen to a young lawyer – John Denniss (now HHJ Denniss) – who advised me if I wanted to be a lawyer not to read law but to study something interesting (apologies in advance to the many, many law graduates whom I have just offended and who are on the whole interesting souls). Sitting on a beach in Ibiza sipping beer not yet being available as a degree subject, I studied history instead. It hopefully broadened my mind. It has made me think and reflect.
Anyway you get the point.
Back to Handy. His latest, excellent book is The Second Curve: Thoughts on Reinventing Society. What is the Second Curve I hear you ask? Basically, it is the principle that you should change before you hit a peak as it is much harder to do so once you are on a downward spiral. Handy is a prime example – he has been an executive, academic, consultant and author always changing at the right time or just before. The book contains some scary facts for all of us: for example, the prediction that half of all the jobs today will cease to exist in just 15 years; by 2035 47% of all roles will be performed by computer. Oh that’s just another wild prediction you say. Well not really. It is happening now. To illustrate the point: the big corporations that employed thousands of people are changing – for example, while a big company like Kodak employed 145,000 people an even “bigger” organisation like Facebook employs just 6,000. The definition of what means “big” is changing – rapidly. Big no longer means lots of employees.
Lawyers – external and in-house – are not immune from this. Quite the reverse – as Handy rightly points out much basic legal work will be performed by computers in the future without the need for you and me. The legal world will be radically different in five years and possibly unrecognisable in fifteen. Yet we still train more and more lawyers. That wouldn’t be so bad in itself but we are training them very much in our own image – to have the type of career we have had – the only one we have known. But legal careers in the future will be very different.
At the LBC Spring and Summer Schools in Cambridge (the next one is in 10-12 April 2016 – that’s the only plug in this piece unless you want details of my latest book!) lots of wise folk get together with thirty or so in-house lawyers generally early into their career. The wise folk – they are called “Wise Owls (it is a loose description in my case!) focus on the business and people skills in-house lawyers need to progress their careers successfully in business. We have to some extent based this on the legal world as we know it. However, this is no longer going to be enough going forward. We must create a new future for ourselves – we have to imagine what the new world will be like and create a place for ourselves in that new world. As Charles Grimes – one of the speakers at Cambridge – reminds us those who survive are those who best adapt to change. We all need to be able to do this if we are to survive in this new world. However I wonder if adapting alone may now be enough – maybe we have to imagine and create that new life at the right time or just shortly before as Handy would tell us.
So what’s your point? Very simply don’t be afraid to imagine what the future will be like or to adapt. Try new things – whether that means working abroad or going on secondment to a department other than the legal one. Maybe you will return to Legal, may be you won’t. But you’ll be more easily able to adapt to change and to imagine or create your future. Timing is of course everything and knowing when the second curve has arrived is a challenge. However, keep an open mind – both in business and in life – and maybe you will reach it. Sometimes at least!
Which reminds me I must imagine my future – maybe a sunny beach in Ibiza with a cool beer…..